Why should a college student major in English? It’s a question with hundreds of answers, but one of the most common is that reading, more so than other activities, makes you a better person. It sharpens your mind and hones your sense of morality. But what if this comforting idea — as close as you can get to a conviction held by all writers — has little to no basis in reality?
Last week, JK Rowling announced that, midway through writing the Harry Potter series, she nearly killed off Ron Weasley “out of spite.” Ron isn’t the first supporting character to narrowly avoid death in an author’s rough draft. The Awl illustrates some of literature’s other close calls with death.
In a head-scratching piece of writing for the New Statesman, Dave Eggers (whose novel The Circle just cracked our Top Ten) reflects on a cross-country drive he took from Jeddah to Riyadh. The journey, and in particular a comment made by his chauffeur, caused Eggers to ponder the significance of his nationality, his ability to perceive danger, and the intentions of others. The short of it: Some people from other countries are nice. Who knew?
Ohio poet Stanley Gebhardt accused Violent J, a member of Insane Clown Posse, of stealing his poem, “But You Didn’t,” nine years ago and attempting to pass it off as his own. The poem was originally published in A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Bonus: Kent Russell’s dispatch from “The Gathering of the Juggalos.”
Over at Threepenny Review, Jess Row expounds on “blandness” in the work of Haruki Murakami, and particularly in his 2.8 lb. tome 1Q84—a book tabbed by Charles Baxter in last year’s Year in Reading as the best he’d read all year. Row contemplates the way Murakami’s characters and sentences “almost never lose this placid, observant neutrality,” or “continuous monotone.”
This week saw the release of Vanishing Point, Vol. II: Songs of the Living and Dying. You may recall my earlier mention of the Vanishing Point project, which was recently borne out of Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. This time around, the publication boasts a redesigned appearance, and it features articles and essays about midwifery in Mali, the intersections between poetry and cinema, and a view of Walden Pond that you’ve never seen before — all presented with accompany visual material, and all produced by university students. This is outstanding stuff, and it’s well worth your time.